Wisdom Community Center - 105 Years Old and Counting…
Serena Stevenson & Dennis Havig, May 1st
In the early 1900s Wisdom residents had a dream of a civic center. To that end, William Montgomery donated land that was later traded for the land that the Community Center is located on today. In fact, William Montgomery was called the father of the community building in a 1917 article in the Big Hole Basin News. Montgomery was quoted as saying. “I want this town to have a place where cattlemen and buyers can meet and talk over market conditions without interruptions. And I want to see a place where good and pure entertainment can be given the young folks. I will give the lots upon which the building may be erected and will do everything in my power to see such a place in Wisdom.” Just so you know, in 1916 the only place to meet was a bar or someone’s home.
In January of 1916 members of the Big Hole Basin Stockman’s Association including President Shaw, Ben Stevenson, and Wm Montgomery and others joined forces with RA Hathaway from the Big Hole Basin News to develop a community building facility. The Wisdom Masons, Odd Fellows, the Excelsior Club or Women's Club also joined in the effort. The Montgomery property was traded with JP Lossl for the current site of the community building. The original name was the Wisdom Library Association formed in 1916.
Hathaway was on the school board and knew that with the construction of the new brick Wisdom School house the old school building would be for sale. On March 2, 1916 the Wisdom Library Association purchased the “old Wisdom School” for $500 and quickly moved it to the current location to take advantage of ice and snow so the building could be skidded into place with teams of horses. CW Francis charged $76 to move the school to its current location, with the help of numerous locals who supplied horse teams. Kathy Wise our Big Hole Breezes Historical contributor went to kindergarten there.
The records are incomplete, but it appears from unsigned notes in the community building that the first Wisdom School from 1882 was in the river bottom below the Wisdom airport. The south half of the Wisdom Community Center building that we use today is likely the second school building from 1886 to 1915. The third school building was the old brick school opened in 1915 which closed and was torn down in 1988. The current school which opened in 1989 is the fourth.
In 1951 the Wisdom Community Center built two rooms and leased them to the American Legion and the Women’s club. Between 1916 and today the name has changed 4 times, the board chose to stick with the 1950 name “the Wisdom Community Center”. The Wisdom Community Center is now a non-profit corporation. And just like in 1916, we still need a community building.
Over the last year efforts have been made to update the center. The WCC board and volunteers have been busy trying to keep the physical building usable. With the help of the Beaverhead Foundation, the buildings foundation under the west wall has been repaired, and the support columns under the north half of the building were also fixed. The bathrooms were remodeled, and the floors upgraded. United Way of Beaverhead county paid to replace the rug in the Women's club. The two north rooms were also repainted. This was all accomplished in part by grant money from the Federal Cares Act of 2020 to non-profits. That grant got them through the last year and they have asked our local representatives in the Montana house and senate if they could help us in 2021.
David & Janice Scott scored a paint donation from the Sherwin Williams paint store in Butte for the Legion Room and the Women’s Club Room / Library. The wood floors in the Legion Room, and the new carpet in the Women’s club Room are truly beautiful and show a dedication to work very well done. David Scott caulked all the seams on the walls before painting and the walls are now restored to their original beauty. David went to Sherwin Williams and they were able to exactly match the trim stain. New chimney covers were ordered from Amazon and painted to match the original ones that had worn out. Janice Scott beamed as she told me how happy she felt in being a part of this project. She stated that what everyone seemed to enjoy most was the rebirth of the old place, you take something old and worn out, you work together, and you make it new again. It is like putting new life back into the old place, and the community.
Clearly the Covid pandemic has reduced usage of the building thus revenues are near zero except for a few meetings and memorials from generous people in the community. But we still need a place to meet, a place to vote, a place pray, a place to celebrate and a place to morn. Anna Stevenson, President of the WCC along with other board members are looking for new ways to use the community center. It seems that as our community shrinks so does the need for the building. In early August there is a plan to have a flea market in Wisdom and maybe use part of the community building for that event. The hope is that government and private entities start holding in person meetings again and will consider the WCC for these events. There are other suggestions like an art show, community potlucks and the return of the gun show. The Board will keep working to keep the WCC building alive and stable, but they need your help to do so.
So, if you are planning a get together, meeting, family reunion, funeral, party, or dance consider the Wisdom Community Center. There are three separate rooms of various sizes, a fully stocked kitchen, tables and chairs, a stage, sound system and projector, and a piano. Also included in the Women’s Club Room is a library containing original printed editions of the Big Hole Breezes and other area papers, along with many historical books. The Library can be accessed, and the building can be booked, by calling Anna Stevenson at 689-3260 or 689-3418. Catering is also available for your event from local businesses in the area. Donations can be sent to - Wisdom Community Center or WCC, PO Box 66, Wisdom, MT 59761.
The Wisdom Community Center has been a fixture in Wisdom for over a 100 years thanks to the vision and hard work of generations of people in this valley. With a little luck and continued hard work it will serve another 100 years of future generations in the Big Hole Valley. Lastly, we need to say thank you so much to the many people who built and have kept this building available for all of us to use. Thank you, Tom Healy, Dusty Hosko, David & Janice Scott, Anna Stevenson, Diane & Dennis Havig, Kathy & Dean Wise, Melody Mitchel, and all board members and volunteers past and present. We appreciate you!